Adding modern life to your style

06 February 2020

When it comes to our homes 80% of us are primarily concerned with the look of the property, however we need to expect more from what is one of our biggest investments, says architect and James Hardie ambassador, Joe Snell:  

“The spaces we live in have the power to influence our lives and wellbeing. For example, a recent UK paper revealed that something as innocuous as ceiling height can help people be more creative and improve their mood. It is unrecognised elements like this that can make a house into a more liveable and enjoyable abode, so it’s important to consciously design for your subconscious.”  

Whether you’re building or renovating your first home or your forever home, it’s essential to promote the five key elements of space, air, sound, light and view, to create an optimal living environment. Here Joe gives his advice on designing for contemporary life and style.


Modern design embraces open plan living as an antidote to an architectural legacy of creating compartmentalised floor plans to separate servants from the owners. By breaking down the walls, contemporary design facilitates better family connections.  

With shrinking lot sizes for new homes and many families building granny flats or adding areas for boomerang children, it’s important to maximise and optimise limited spaces. When looking at any floor plan, it’s vital to consider horizontal space, which refers to how you move through the room and how you can be affected by doorways and the placement of furniture. Additionally, vertical space encompasses how the eye moves through the room, which is made more comfortable by drawing attention to the furthest point without obstruction. This makes the area feel bigger.

With these considerations in mind, it’s important to think about how you want to use each space and from there, direct people subconsciously to a destination. For example, in a family room you might create an easily identifiable route to the lounge to make navigation intuitive.

When building, opt for materials that will maximise available area, such as James Hardie’s Premium Fibre Cement cladding, which can save approximately 100-130mm of floor space on each external wall as a brick veneer wall is around 230mm wide, while an Axon Cladded frame is roughly 100mm.

What’s more, the lightness of the material allows upper levels to be cantilevered out, increasing floor space and providing shelter to lower alfresco areas. This is a relatively cost efficient option as due to its lightweight nature, less structure is generally needed when compared to heavier materials.


There are few things more relaxing than feeling a cool breeze on a hot day, or more annoying than a persistent draught in winter, which is why air flow and temperature are vitally important to enjoying your abode.

When building or renovating, look to create breezeways that flow through the house. These are most effective when windows or doors are placed on opposing sides of the structure to encourage cross ventilation through the house.

In winter, insulation is key to blocking out drafts and creating a cosier home. There are also clever ideas you can use to make the most of the heat. I will often place windows adjacent to concrete floors in spaces that catch the sunlight as the material soaks up the heat and releases it as the temperature drops later in the day.


As our block sizes get smaller and multi-residential units rise in popularity, sound is increasingly becoming a big consideration. While insulation will block out exterior noise, it’s the concern of being overheard that makes us feel most uneasy.

Think about the last time you moved house. When you went to inspect the vacant property, it would have felt echoey and your voice seemed louder. That’s because there was no furniture or furnishings to stop the sound bouncing from floor to wall to ceiling. The best aesthetic tool to use here is texture on surfaces such as carpets and ceiling finishes. I recently worked with echo panel, often used in office cubicles, to finish a feature wall and reduce noise in a terraced home renovation. It can be battened off the wall to create an air pocket for further audio insulation and works brilliantly.


Natural lighting makes all the difference to a space and here orientation is key. A north facing property will get the most out of the daylight as the sun passes from morning to evening. Aim to put living areas in the northern end of the floor plan for all-day light and bedrooms toward the south that need less natural light. Correct orientation is also cost effective as the parts of the home you want to be warm will heat up at the times of the day that you’re using them.

For renovators who aren’t lucky enough to start with a north facing property, the first step should be to see if you can create or replace an extension that will accommodate more window space and sky lights. There’s a growing trend for adding modern extensions or second floors to traditional properties. 

Building with timber frames and fibre cement cladding is a cost-effective way to build up or out that allows for large openings to bring light in. With a range of profiles and its lightweight formulation, Premium Fibre Cement cladding such as Axon and Stria cladding, Linea Weatherboard and Matrix Panel, is a perfect choice. It also comes primed ready to paint to any desired shade and can be finished to mimic the prevailing colour of the existing building.

Internally, consider removing any non-structural walls to let light flood in. Then layer artificial light sources to illuminate artworks, ambient light to create a soft glow and task lighting over kitchen tops and reading nooks. By defining areas with lighting, you also avoid the frantic switching between focused light and surrounding shade experienced subconsciously when walking under downlights.


More than just having a pretty landscape outside, view balances privacy, line of sight and the illusion of space. Firstly, it is important to understand what view lines are into your home from the surrounding buildings and neighbourhood i.e. can you be overseen by neighbours or passers-by? If so, try to block lines of sight with greenery and architectural features.

If you don’t have an appealing view to take advantage of, create one. A cleverly placed, large format mirror with a considered reflection will add a focal point that enhances any room.

Regardless of the focal point, getting the open plan view right is about creating the feeling of openness, so draw the eye across spaces and aim to blend the interior and exterior by using similar motifs and palates to create a flow and the feeling of one connected area between inside and outside.

By its very definition, the modern home movement is created on the principles of form and function, so by considering light, space, air, sound and view, you won’t need to inconvenience your life for your style.